Modelling a Networked Dimension
I’ve written previously about how I believe that the combination of the Internet, wireless transmission and portable devices have brought into existence a new dimension within which we now exist.
Over the Christmas period my mind had a chance to reflect back to some of my experiences with community groups, organisations and local authorities.
I was looking back to try to understand where things could have been better and why things were as they were.
My main focus being the organisational and relational aspects. I can make no criticism of people who step forward to make a difference or the organisations for whom this is their daily job.
But it is important to step back a little and question the environment within which activity occurs. The situations, circumstances and context.
Please understand this is not an observation about technology! It is about how we organise, how we relate, how we develop, how we include. It is about the soft stuff. It is about the us.
Everything seems to have moved forward at such a rapid pace that it has created two distinct worlds.
People and organisations in the old world are accustomed to certain sets of thinking and behaviours which have worked well for them in the past.
They are built for a world that is static and knowable not for one that is continually coming into being.
The old world is one of certainty and mechanistic thinking. Of leaders with answers and authorities with plans.
The new world is one of vulnerability and human connection. Of people discovering possibilities on a journey they are feeling their way along together.
Social shift do occur and I believe that we are nearing a point.
We need to upgrade our entire society for the ‘ever accelerating future’ that is arriving now each and every day. A process like that can only happen naturally and developmentally.
There are plenty of organisations out there to help us. But until decision makers recognise the need it will be slow progress.
Which gives rise to the question… How do you perceive that which you cannot see?
Bridging the Gap
So how do you bridge the gap between two worlds?
The majority of my thinking concerns itself with how individuals, businesses and organisations can be placed into contexts which change their understanding and lead to growth i.e. they become the bridge.
This particular post is an early attempt to connect some of my thinking with big G government which may require something rather different.
For quite a while now I’ve had thoughts that a ‘networked model’ of reality might be useful for some purposes and could have benefits to existing thinking and practices.
I’m just going to put the early idea out there for now. I’m not a mathematician and proving or developing a model like this would be a task for minds far smarter than mine. It’s a toy for now.
The following is a really interesting video on Systems Theory (and it connects in many ways to my own work and thinking).
What is interesting to me is that this theory was being used within social work and social work belongs within government.
So could there be a body of knowledge and understanding within government and civil service which could form a foundation.
To build a bridge requires an understanding of both sides.
Another question I’ve been asking is how do you change reality.
One way in which reality is changed is for government to say what is real and what isn’t or what is right and what isn’t.
So it happens first through legislation and then applies itself in our society.
So let’s take for example the Equality Act (United Kingdom).
First the legislation comes into force and then over what can seem an endless amount of time — policy, decisions and practices within government, business and society change.
It’s a gradual process.
Or, as we have seen with Equal Pay for women. It’s actually an endless fight against a predominant and resistant culture.
What we don’t do is recognise that there are structural and cultural issues at play — social change is not as simple as policy-making. If it was then equality in pay would have been achieved overnight in 1970.
My belief is that one of the issues at hand is that we don’t actually understand the reason for the legislation — as all of the thinking has been done for us.
New legislation attempts to force us to act and behave in a way which we didn’t have to previously.
We are told what to do without understanding why we should. But our innate human ability to learn and adapt our behavior has to involve our own thinking and learning.
We are naturally smart and empathetic not passive and mechanic.
A society is its people and its culture, its norms and mores. It is not the law.
I’m drifting slightly off track here.
In practice what we see happen is that instead of understanding the why (the spirit) we look for the what (the dead letter).
Instead of understanding the experience of a disabled person has when trying to engage with local civic institutions (discrimination, inaccessible buildings, inflexibility etc) we put in place measures to address complaints as and when they are raised.
After complaints by members of the public an access ramp appears at the town hall to much celebration and acclaim…
Well intended this may be but social progress it isn’t. We got the memo but we didn’t get the message.
We have operated within the bounds of legislation but we have neglected the potential for personal, social and cultural learning about the lives and experiences of human beings other than ourselves.
We didn’t change the world in any meaningful way.
Nobody wants things to be like this but until we see things differently, understand that we need to do things differently and empathise with the lives of others we’re stuck.
Unless we change something there will never be equal pay for women. There will never be true equality between the sexes. LGBTQI+ people will never feel that they belong to their own society. Disabled people will always be excluded.
The list is endless and for evermore.
Seeing the Other Side
Sometimes you’ve just gotta recreate the world anew and that only starts once we can imagine it anew. It helps when we can visualise something and/or move our mind into a different place or mode of thinking.
This is where models and tools are a real help.
Now let’s take a look at a very simple first draft model of ‘networked space’.
For a quick intro to geometry/topology click here.
The idea for ‘Networked Space’ is that it is a dimension which emerges from the interaction of the physical and digital worlds.
It removes the borders between organisations and presents the world as consisting entirely of purpose, relationships and potentiality.
Purpose becomes the reason why the relationships form (a network).
The important stuff becomes our innate human skills — relational skills, communication, understanding, creativity and resourcefulness.
It is to the meeting of the purpose and the enablement of participants in the relationship that the potential within the entire networked space is made available.
As an idealised space it does not need to contain our cultural baggage (sexism, forms of discrimination etc).
What we design and architect here does not rely on the physical or digital worlds. It’s a place where we can initially work without constraints.
It would be when we transition ideas and solutions (systems) back out into the real world that we would begin implementing physically, digitally and socially.
The point being that those inherent/idealised properties which make ‘Networked Space’ unique would then carry through into the real world.
Synchronous/Asynchronous for example when carried back out into the physical/digital could mean that citizens could engage with systems (democratic decision making) in way that is right for them.
Currently we take the system we have (town hall) then the problem (disability access) and then produce the solution (disabled ramp).
In ‘Networked Space’ we look to the purpose (citizen participation, civic engagement, rights), the relationships (citizens, civic institutions, civil society, legislation) and the existing potential (community, design, manufacturing, education etc).
What might come back from this process is something much more useful and far reaching even if that’s only greater learning and understanding of purpose, possibilities and our shared humanity.
We already know that our institutions are outdated and not fit for the future but when we try to sit down and design them we end up with something that looks like what we’ve already got.
Moving into an architectural space where those patterns and structures do not follow could help.
Additionally, we need to recognise that we do not exist separate from these systems — we exist within them.
In the networked age it is imperative that know what government, society, and our laws, norms and mores look like inside networks.
I have a feeling we don’t quite have the science or understanding to fully comprehend what this means in practice (I certainly don’t!).
Government has a role to play here, it cannot stay passive whilst platforms and systems consume the world. It has a duty to protect the public and it can only do so when it is fully cognizant of the dangers and opportunities.
Government, civil society and citizens should be imagining and co-producing Government 0.x and Society 0.x today.
We need some experimental thinking and practice at the national scale. If we don’t then we may end up being swallowed whole.
I’m not saying any of this is right, but there might be something here that could complement existing tools, models and practices.
I’ve only touched lightly on the idea just to get the concepts outside of myself where I can come back to them at a later stage.
I feel there may be topological aspects to networks/systems which we do not currently perceive — archetypal forms may be one way of describing these.
There may also be topologies which correspond to network related phenomenon that we see in the world today — replication, amplification, magnification etc — all of which we might have a better understanding of if we delve deeper into the underlying substance from which they arise.
The relational space is not just about people it is about bringing things together. It creates the conditions for collaborative and divergent approaches.
Relationships can be between:
People, organisations, diverse experiences and ideas.
Human Intelligence (empathy, peacemaking, creativity, resourcefulness)
Collective Intelligence (local/global knowledge and experience)
Network Intelligence (identifying capacity/diversity gaps and network disparities)
Artificial Intelligence (nurturing relationships, facilitating growth, counselling, understanding potential and probabilities, logistics)
A Rights Led Reality?
I also think there may be an entire scope for relooking at how rights (legislation?) work in networks and the world.
This may be my own personal desires coming through!
I’d like to see all legislation redrawn from natural rights outward (human, child, nature, community, society/public). Maybe we can do this within networks first and the real world (if it’s willing) next.